Articles, Blog

What Makes A Meme Go Viral?

January 7, 2020

[♪INTRO] At some point, we’ve all wondered why something
as annoying as “Friday” or as delightful as Grumpy Cat can arrive so suddenly and overwhelmingly
in our Internet lives. The Dress was everywhere for three days in
2015, before everyone got over it. And who knows what picture or joke or video
will dominate your newsfeed next? So why do things go viral? To be honest, this isn’t something a lot
of people have studied. Really, the only thing newer than the Internet
is taking the Internet seriously enough to publish a peer-reviewed study about it. But, when it comes down to it, sharing on
the Internet is a lot like other kinds of social sharing. Gossip and urban legends spread like wildfire,
too. Both of these types of sharing have been shown
to be driven by emotion. And if you think emotion isn’t everywhere
on the Internet, then this might be your first time on the Internet…. Welcome! It was this line of thinking that led a group
of researchers to look at almost 7,000 New York Times articles from three months in 2008. They were trying to figure out what kinds
of things got an article shared enough to make the Times’ most-emailed list. And emotion was the culprit, measured by both
computer algorithms with databases of words and humans. Although the Internet can seem like a cesspool
of negativity, the scientists actually found that articles that were emotionally positive
were more likely to be shared than those that were emotionally negative. But an article that was very negative was
more likely to be shared than one that was only mildly positive. So it wasn’t just whether the emotion was
positive or negative that mattered. It was also how arousing that emotion was:
if you got your lungs pumping and your heart racing a little bit. The same lead researcher did another study,
too, where they specifically looked at arousal. They had 93 students watch videos that provoked
either contentment, amusement, sadness, or anxiety. Amusement and anxiety are both considered
high-arousal emotions, while contentment and sadness are considered low-arousal. They found that watching one of the high-arousal
videos made the viewer more likely to share a neutral article or video that they saw afterwards. And in second experiment with 40 participants,
the researchers found that even just making people run in place for a minute to increase
arousal was enough to increase sharing. Which…what!? Wow. This might be partially why over-the-top “clickbait”
headlines work so well—they’re trying to shock you or make you laugh. But there’s more to social sharing than
just arousal. The same researchers pointed to other factors
that seem to make something shareable, including how interesting, useful, and surprising it
is. Like, y’know, ibexes licking salt off the
side of a nearly-vertical cliff because they crave that mineral. And sometimes what goes viral has little to
do with the content at all. Sometimes, it’s all about us. In the 1990s, a team of researchers proposed
a new idea for why people go along with trends and fads. They called this concept an informational
cascade, which is what happens when one person makes a decision and then others, rather than
gathering information to make their own decision, base their decision on the first person’s. It might seem like a silly thing to do. But if you think that someone else’s decision
is based on factors that would guide your own, it can be easy to just agree with them,
whether they’re a friend or an expert. This hypothesis could help explain why you
might think one kind of car is safer than another, why everyone is wearing crop tops
this summer, or why books that hit the New York Times bestseller list tend to stay there
for a while. And once momentum gets started, it keeps on
going, thanks to the bandwagon effect: the more people adopt an idea or belief, the more
likely others will too. Simply having the sense that many people support
an opinion or think a video is funny can cause others to retweet again and again. But memes don’t last forever. And the idea of an informational cascade can
also explain why fads die — why yesterday’s covfefe joke is today’s…like, whatever
that is by the time this is uploaded. The premise of an informational cascade is
that many people’s decisions are based on the research and thoughts of a few, hopefully
well-informed people. But when a bandwagon grows, it doesn’t increase
the amount of knowledge that went into that first shareable thing. Which means that receiving information that
contradicts the idea — maybe a recall from that super safe car company or some evidence
that a seemingly scientific fact was just a hyped-up rumor — can pretty easily dislodge
it. Or when the novelty wears off, because even
dramatic chipmunk isn’t as hilarious when you’ve seen it 100 times, a meme might die
a natural death. People are already jumping on the next bandwagon. So, while there are many, many things on the
Internet that remain mysterious, there is some sense to what goes viral. It’s the stuff that makes us laugh, the
stuff that makes us mad, and the stuff that people we trust tell us we should share. Which is why you should definitely share this
video to everyone you know. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych, which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. There;s bunch of you, and you’re really
great. If you’d like to be one of those people
and help us making episodes like this, you can go to And don’t forget to subscribe! [♪OUTRO]


  • Reply Dávid Kertész July 25, 2017 at 9:30 am

    CGP grey has a disturbingly awesome video about this, titled "This video will make you angry". I highly recommend to check it out.

  • Reply Yogscast_Cyan July 25, 2017 at 9:42 am

    You guys should watch "this video will make you angry" from CGPGrey

  • Reply TheSchmuck2 July 25, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Hank, please go take off that shirt and burn it.

  • Reply Nathan McGregor July 25, 2017 at 9:57 am

    I would love to see this video go Viral, just for the heck of it

  • Reply Alex Mercer July 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Does 15 minutes of fame work the same way?

  • Reply Steamcleana _ July 25, 2017 at 11:54 am

    You are now breathing manually.

  • Reply Triniswe July 25, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Pornhub might be interested in this video.

  • Reply Pim MR July 25, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    I'm early. Huh. Well, kinda.
    Hi Hank! 😉

  • Reply JimNatale July 25, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Hank hank hank, don't get yourself worked up over normie memes. Take a step into the dank tumerous memes.

  • Reply JimNatale July 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    I wanna know why I and so many others like laugh at f*cked up things.

  • Reply Emci Wishqq July 25, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    youtube is my city

  • Reply miTTTir July 25, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    I saw what you did there. I am not sharing it beacuse you told me to. Although it is a good video, I am not going to fall for it.

  • Reply MakeMeThinkAgain July 25, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    I just sat down after returning from the gym, so this aroused me in a way I'm not totally comfortable with. 😐

  • Reply jeremy miller July 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Didn't CPG Grey already make a video about this?

  • Reply Fatima Haidar July 25, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    i am in love with this channel

  • Reply Friedel Majoor July 25, 2017 at 6:33 pm

    That shirt

  • Reply Round Pi July 25, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    0:14 It's white and gold! RAAAAAAGE!!!!!!! >:0

  • Reply The God Emperor July 25, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Informational Cascade is something that happens in politics too much….

  • Reply Max Musterman July 25, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    this wont die.

  • Reply Marie Lastname July 25, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    There is a recommended video on this page that actually says "OMG! love that shirt" in its title caption.

  • Reply Scott Huynh July 26, 2017 at 1:23 am

    F I R E F L I E S

  • Reply Poster27 July 26, 2017 at 3:28 am

    There's one question that's bugging me. What causes "brain farts"?

  • Reply Mobeus Kagamine July 26, 2017 at 9:21 am

    "Free will is a myth. Religion is a joke. We are all pawns of something even greater: memes, the DNA of the soul. They shape our will. They are the culture. They are everything we pass on. Expose someone to anger long enough, they will learn to hate. They become a carrier. Envy, greed, despair: all memes, all passed on."

  • Reply mi chan July 26, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    insert sounds good, doesn't work gif here

  • Reply John von Shepard July 26, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Remember Covfefe?

  • Reply tomshrader July 26, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Obviously it's level of moisture, also called "dankness".

  • Reply XerDav July 26, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    the Bandwagon effect is probably highly in part how Bitcoin went from a fraction of a fraction of a cent, to a peak of nearly 3,000 USD each ^.^

  • Reply Mike Hodson July 27, 2017 at 2:54 am

    Hank's shirt is making me emotionally arroused.

  • Reply Ruka Erika July 27, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Dead by indifference is how a meme goes, until it rises from the grave with nostalgia.

  • Reply Northie July 27, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I rade dis vid 10/10 IGN

  • Reply Rebekah Nice July 28, 2017 at 12:48 am

    noooooo don't bring the mineral meme back lmao

  • Reply Ilikeclapping Blah July 28, 2017 at 1:04 am

    Did anyone else Google Image search Ibexes licking rocks?

  • Reply Roxor128 July 28, 2017 at 2:52 am

    So, is there any way to short-circuit a meme and stop it from going viral?

  • Reply Combustionsquirrel July 28, 2017 at 4:40 am

    Speaking of memes…
    Why are there viral memes around my anus?

  • Reply Anish Mulchandani July 28, 2017 at 5:32 am

    Dank you, Hank for this information!

  • Reply ok July 28, 2017 at 11:08 am

    please up the framerate a bit…

  • Reply Spot Sage July 28, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Haha got an ad of pbs eons before the video

  • Reply TheNutSlapper69 July 28, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Memes are garbage.

  • Reply Herp Derpingson July 29, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Mountains got minerals, it is what animals crave.

  • Reply HalieMay July 29, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    how to make meme grow big and strong?

  • Reply Lord KeK July 30, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Dank memes always give me a erection

  • Reply Date Masamune July 30, 2017 at 8:54 am

    But We Are Number One will never die! :v

  • Reply YiGzit July 30, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Damn this video is hank!

    Get it cuz dank=hank? Yeah, sorry…

  • Reply Nume Moon July 31, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Long live covfefe!

  • Reply YaoLi Jiang July 31, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    I love how he worked "covfefe" into this video. tbh a little embarrassing, bc it came from our president D:

  • Reply Blind John Harrison July 31, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    These are dead memes, Hank. Dramatic Chipmunk? Pah. Where's ya meme game, boi?

  • Reply Rip Nephils August 1, 2017 at 2:53 am

    That shirt its a meme

  • Reply Nanna Leifa August 1, 2017 at 10:56 am

    🎼Scaramucci, Scaramucci, will you do the fandango? 🎶

  • Reply Josh Derak August 1, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Tell me why people leave Buzzfeed. I need to know.

  • Reply Melih Ekinci August 1, 2017 at 11:44 am

    What makes you this cute and lovable? tell me! 🙂

  • Reply Esther Scherpenisse August 1, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    Question: I would love to support SciShow, if you could offer a way of patreon payment that didn't involve a credit card?

  • Reply Summer Breezé August 3, 2017 at 9:38 am

    hank protec, hank also attac

  • Reply Elena Karolína Semanová August 3, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Yet another great video. Thumbs up.

  • Reply LIST August 4, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Wanted that explanation for so long ! Thanks SciShow !

  • Reply Kathy Trithardt August 5, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    SciShow writer: I wonder how many times I can get Hank to say arousal in one video without being too obvious about it? (Mine is an evil laugh)

  • Reply Alex Couch August 9, 2017 at 1:11 am

    Did I just get an ad with hank it on a video with hank in it?

  • Reply Camo Ninja August 14, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Why do some people try to go against bandwagons?

  • Reply Corinne Ambler August 16, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Really, Hank, right in front of my salad?

  • Reply Bees ? August 28, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Omg they crave that mineral is my favorite meme ever

  • Reply Yasmina L September 3, 2017 at 12:12 am

    That shirt looks its ugly

  • Reply Maxvolume123 September 17, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    cringey thumbnail though lol

  • Reply Deimnos October 16, 2017 at 7:06 am

    already shared the video before youtold me Hank! YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME MU HAHAHA!!!!

  • Reply Christopher McCauley October 19, 2017 at 10:42 am

    I still find dramatic chipmunk funny tbh

  • Reply Brooke Console November 14, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    Please stop saying arousal so much

  • Reply SuperBendyBros January 24, 2018 at 2:37 am

    Every meme creator just knows de wei to make a meme go viral

  • Reply HomeMadeCircle January 24, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Tide pods

  • Reply babw16 January 27, 2018 at 2:09 am

    Covfefe…. hehehehe

  • Reply Francis Sims January 28, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    This videos ok… But can it do this!?!

  • Reply Dima Gass January 31, 2018 at 5:43 am

    quit making stupid people famous.

  • Reply Woo Six February 1, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    I love dramatic chipmunk.

  • Reply That One Guy On Youtube February 7, 2018 at 12:52 am

    De wae will nevah die!

  • Reply Lord Hintin February 9, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    honestly going to share this to all my friends as an ironic playoff of the existence of memes now.

  • Reply Mister187 February 20, 2018 at 3:55 pm


  • Reply Florance Marina April 4, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    um, no, not after that k bomb you dropped.

  • Reply Homo Sapien April 7, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    I wish there were more studies on social psychology in context of internet. Great video by the way. Thanks.

  • Reply shademew April 8, 2018 at 12:38 am

    Informational cascade, also known as please don't leave your shopping cart on my aisle, everyone else will be doing it too.

  • Reply Sam Seidel April 8, 2018 at 2:11 pm

  • Reply Kate April 13, 2018 at 12:23 am

    It's a fallacy called an appeal to the people I learned this fallacy at my school and its a quite popular fallacy with people including me in this world that's why we have to train our minds to think outside of the box.

  • Reply Meghan Kearns April 19, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    Now I wonder how many times this has been shared?

  • Reply Deeno Carpentras - Amore per la Razionalità May 20, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    If you don't want to share just run for a while and then come back

  • Reply Nakita Benjamin June 19, 2018 at 6:46 am

    This video is very flaw. You didn't make a valid point at all.

  • Reply Mermaidreefer August 11, 2018 at 2:44 am

    come watch my vids and subscribe

  • Reply BaconCheezeBurgerz August 21, 2018 at 3:32 am

    Now open a science meme channel named “SciShow Meme” featuring Hank Meme.

  • Reply A Tr December 2, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Sorta bummed I can’t find muscle hank here.

  • Reply Ayrton Urviola December 11, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    I trust you Hank… I'm sharing this ☝🏻

  • Reply Mosaic Slime January 15, 2019 at 1:35 am

    What makes a meme go viral is that people share it, then those people share it, then those people share it, ad infinitum. There's your explanation, this video is pointless now.

  • Reply Turtlee February 4, 2019 at 4:13 am


  • Reply kcaH zneroL February 7, 2019 at 9:34 pm

    Dank Green

  • Reply ZACHYBOY 808 February 12, 2019 at 8:39 am

    I dont get memes but I like them because my friends like them but I do get star wars memes

  • Reply EveryTimeV2 February 15, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Don't know but I know how you can test it. Memes aren't always successful, but if you keep trying to make one then you're bound to have a few successful ones. If you're a scientist you record the chain of events as best you can. Good thing about viral memes is that there is no moratorium on experimenting with people over social media.

  • Reply Legolord Productions February 24, 2019 at 11:24 pm

    All jokes aside, Hank does make a good point about the occurrence and disappearance of trends. Primarily, they don't last forever is what we can all agree on because it happens with another new trend that will eventually die (or gets renewed with every new generation of memes).

  • Reply Your Precious Trash March 4, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Answer: internet.

  • Reply Elusiveplayz April 20, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    Roblox sees bots in this video


  • Reply 3 Possums in a Trenchcoat May 5, 2019 at 6:57 am

    me and the boys at 2am

  • Reply Yuri May 20, 2019 at 3:13 am

    Some dude: You can't just make a random picture go viral.
    The person behind the observe meme: Observe.

  • Reply DeltaTheRay June 28, 2019 at 10:34 am


  • Reply journalsfromdavid July 16, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Area 51 raid is trending in 2019

  • Reply Francis Vaccino October 1, 2019 at 1:26 am

    🙁 It's like you deliberately didn't make any dorky faces this time so no one could pause n link a frame adding: "it's a face like this that answers the title's question"

  • Reply Kwaite Funis October 6, 2019 at 5:38 am

    Anyone here randomly from Youtube Recommendations??

  • Reply Ponk 80 October 30, 2019 at 5:53 am

    The most annoying popular thing on the internet, is people doing a jump cut to take out any pauses or breaths on a video, turning it into one long stream of words, taking away the ability to actually take in what is being said, and people saying we can just watch the video several times, kind of takes away the purchase of removing the pauses in the first place, plus it makes young people inpatient and makes them loose the ability to concentrate.

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